Cherry Creek is located on the northern border of Yosemite Valley in the Emigrant Wilderness. It flows along the base of Kibbie ridge for about 15 miles before feeding the Cherry Lake reservoir. In October, the creek is sometimes described as a garden hose trickle. Hikers can visit its canyon and follow it down for about 12 miles. The Cherry Creek Canyon hike is in the process of becoming a PCS classic. After his second trip 2 years ago, Kelly Maas wanted to return again and motivated another 11 people to follow him on this adventure. We started hiking from Cherry Lake on Saturday at 8:00am. On this 2 day trip, the first day is spent hiking first on a dirt road, then along a trail that follows Kibbie ridge until Styx pass (about 14 miles and 3500' gain). This ridge trail allows nice views into the Canyon but the 70-80F temperature on the ridge and the mileage made this first day somewhat of a slog. From Styx pass, we cut the trail and headed down into the Canyon for another 1-2 miles. Although this had been a long day, our first glimpse of the upper canyon made us all realized why we had come here in first place. It is wall-to-wall granite, a very scenic and unusual place. 2001 being a dry year, there was no flow in the creek but water was still available in the many pools and pockets shaped into the rock. At 5pm, we found nice patches of sand interspersed among the granite and trees that allowed our rather large group to establish camp comfortably. We had daylight until about 7pm which gave us ample time to set shelters and cook while enjoying this very special place.
It had been a rather cool Friday night at the Cherry Valley campground above Cherry Lake. Although we were 2000 feet higher, the night into the canyon was unexpectedly warm. This was due to the sun-heated granite surrounding us. A clear temperature difference could be felt whenever we moved away from the rocks, which was never more than a few feet.
As Sunday promised to be a long day, we started hiking down the canyon at 7am. Several of us had spotted bear scat and prints in the sand and pretty soon we spotted a black bear on a ledge, easy to make out on the granite background. It quickly disappeared behind the rocks. Hiking down the trail-less canyon, hopping over boulders and slabs was a constant treat and everyone enjoyed it immensely. In some sections the canyon narrowed down to arms width and we used some thin ledges in the steep walls to avoid wading through deep pools. In two sections, we had to backtrack and get out of the canyon because a wall was too steep to be tackled by our group.
At 3pm and after 10-12 miles of hiking, we reached a small lake at the confluence of Cherry Creek and its West Fork. We filled our water bottles before leaving the creek for good. We headed west, staying above the south side of the creek, reached a saddle and then followed a little used trail down. From this point (about 5000' elevation), we headed cross-country toward the dirt road which was about 2.5 miles away and 5750' elevation. We followed a bearing of 152 degrees toward a landmark along the road. We encountered a fair amount of impassable prickly brush as we got closer to the road, which made staying on course and keeping the group together a real challenge. With the help of Landa's "road sense", we emerged out of the woods at 5:45 pm, about 0.1 mile from our intended target. It got dark quickly as we headed down the dirt road for another 4 miles, comparing our various feet and muscle pains as we marched. We were back at the dam at 8pm, feeling tired but rewarded by an exceptional trip.
Trip participants: Kelly Maas, leader, Landa Robillard, Dot Reilly, Chris and John Kerr, Alex Sapozhnikov, Heather Kirkby, Austin Meinert, Kirsten and Stephane Mouradian, co-leader and scribe. Although not officially signed up on this trip, Tim Hult and Andy Skumanich met us at the trailhead and hiked along with our group for most of the trip.